Expert Articles

Social Development in Toddlers

Author: Scarlett Tsoi
Psychological Counsellor

Do newborns have social abilities? In fact, newborns immediately establish a close relationship with their mothers, and this attachment has a profound impact on their emotions, personalities, and development.

Early social responses

The social interactions of infants and toddlers in the early stages are influenced by their parents’ responses. The mother is the closest person due to attachment behaviour. When separated from the mother, the infant starts crying, indicating resistance. If the sad crying is not enough to bring the mother back, the crying intensifies. If the mother uses gentle words, a warm smile, and holds the baby, the baby feels loved and accepted. As the infant’s sense of trust in their parents increases, they gradually expand their social sphere and develop peer relationships around the age of 2.

Three Stages of Social Development

Since infants and toddlers spend most of their early time lying down, researchers have observed their social development starting around 6 months, which can be divided into three stages.

Stage 1 (6 to 11 months):

Focus on objects; social behaviour is mostly centered around toys rather than relationships with peers. Peers may briefly touch, smile, make eye contact, vocalize, or gaze at each other, but they tend to ignore each other.

Stage 2 (12 to 18 months):
Simple interactions begin to occur. Peers start to gaze at each other, engage in conversations, and give each other things. From 9 to 13 months, infants pay slightly more attention to peers and may conflict over toys. From 14 to 18 months, their interest in peers significantly increases, but conflicts over toys decrease.

Stage 3 (18 to 24 months):
Cooperative, complementary, and reciprocal behaviours emerge. Toddlers enjoy social interactions with peers and like to play together. From 19 to 24 months, social contact through smiling and gazing at each other increases, and playtime becomes more harmonious. The time spent with peers continuously increases, while accompanying adults decreases. After the age of 2, toddlers start to develop early friendships, characterized by closeness, sharing, and complementary social behaviours.

Peer social development

Healthy social development is essential for a child’s growth. Initially, social interactions occur within the parent-child relationship, but later, interactions with peers become more important. The influence of peers on a child’s development becomes increasingly significant. Through interactions with peers, children learn how to relate to others, handle conflicts, and develop self-awareness through their reactions to peers. This helps them establish a positive self-value system and serves as an important foundation for interpersonal relationships. If a child experiences problems in their relationships with peers, it can hinder their interpersonal development and increase the likelihood of adaptation issues in the future.

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Social Development in Toddlers